Google's setback is a win for privacy.



Following an April ruling by the Swiss Federal Administrative Court, Internet giant Google must now guarantee the anonymity of people's faces or license plate numbers before it publishes any new photos on its Street View application. The Bern-based court also demanded the alteration of other identifying features, such as clothing and ethnicity; with images taken near sensitive establishments, such as prisons, women's shelters, schools, retirement homes, hospitals and courts also needing to be altered.

Google's lawyers had maintained that personal privacy was already guaranteed because internal software automatically blurred faces and license plates. However, they conceded that the service wasn't infallible. Though each Street View image also features a link allowing users to request its modification, the ruling means that Google can no longer rely on automatic software, or on users to flag anonymity issues: rather, photos must now be manipulated manually prior to publication--an enormous task given the number of images involved.

According to a report on, Swiss data protection commissioner Hanspeter Thur--who initiated the action against Google--said, "I'm relieved that the question of whether a citizen walking the streets is fair game for online services has been resolved. The verdict confirms our right to our own image."

Unsurprisingly, Google's lawyers disagree. Peter Fleischer of the company's Global Privacy Counsel said, "We are very disappointed because Street View has proved to be very useful to millions of people, as well as businesses and tourist organisations. More than one in four of the Swiss population has used it since the...

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